Category: "applied anthropology"
Are more and more (American) anthropologists willing to collaborate with the military? If so, anthropology’s role as an instrument of empire can come back into sharper focus as an inherent problem of a Western way of knowing the world", writes Maximilian Forte:
Yet, we have to admit that imperialism is a significant feature of a “discipline” that was made possible by colonial expansion and where once again anthropologists can find profit from imperialist missions in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
When this is added to the chorus of voices in anthropology that would like to diminish indigeneity, that disputes the very concept “indigenous,” that refers to the struggles of the colonized for rights in terms of “seeking special rights,” and that lords over indigenous physical remains as if other people’s bodies (specifically colonized bodies) were the natural property of anthropology - then it is no wonder that this “discipline” (the martial severity of this terminology is indicative and fortuituous in this case) continues to be banished from most universities in the “decolonized” world.
Roger N. Lancaster writes about his experiences during his anthropological research in Mexico:
Invariably, one of the first questions I was asked when I tried to begin an interview was, “Are you here to spy on us?”
Even after full disclosure of my university employment, publications and current research design, I found myself blocked out of some potentially useful interviews. Headlines like “Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones” (front page, Oct. 5) will make future research all the more difficult.
The identification of anthropology with military operations, intelligence gathering and “armed social work” augurs ill for the future of a discipline that studies populations distrustful of power — many of which have had unhappy past experiences with American invasion, occupation or support for corrupt dictatorships.
Daniel Martin Varisco does not want to take sides. Nevertheless he stresses that anthropologists’ primary task is not to teach anthropology or cultural awareness. The military interest in ethnography is invariably about gathering “intelligence”, he writes. “This is not about knocking on doors, but finding suspects.” “And the issue here", he continuies, “is not about serving in the army, or judging those who do, but whether or not anthropologists can conduct research that could be used to the detriment of the people being studied.”
In his opinion, these questions are worth discussing further:
• Would an anthropologist want to be in a position where there might be a major conflict between his or her own conscience as a researcher and the military chain of command?
• Would it be possible to establish trust and rapport, so essential for ethnographic research, when clothed in fatigues and followed by a military escort?
• How much time would a researcher have in order to collect information and who would actually own the rights to that data?
• How many anthropologists have the required language and dialect skills to work in Afghanistan or Iraq?
• If asked by the military, would an anthropologist go under cover to get information?
• And, for the long term, how long will it be in the future before anyone trusts anthropologists in either “war on terror” theater?
Of course, many anthropologists may refuse to collaborate with the military / CIA for political reasons (for some critics the CIA is a terror organisation and opposition to the US-led war is legitimate), but even these ethical and technical research questions might be a good enough reason to simply not to do any military related work.
UPDATE 2: Eric Michael Johnson who runs the blog The Primate Diaries criticises anthropologists who state that “anthropology can help the war effort". In his opinion, this is “uncritical enthusiasm". It shouldn’t be forgotten, he writes, that anthropology has long had a connection with militaristic expansion. >> read his article Anthropology Goes to War. Anthropologists in the war effort from “savages” to “terrorists”
His article consists of three parts. Especially interesting part 3: Anthropology and counterinsurgency in Thailand. The USA misused anthropology to undermine communist influence. Most anthropologists, he writes joined this counterinsurgency project out of both professional interest and a desire to help the Thai villagers.
In a detailed account of one counterinsurgency effort, migrating Hmong villagers were viewed to be “potential” insurgents and were forced to resettle to less fertile farmlands. The Hmong “were forced to steal food rather than starve,” which then developed into a “full-scale rebellion” once the Thai Border Patrol Police “responded.” The Thai government “deployed troops and helicopters and finally resorted to heavy bombing and napalm” to battle these “communists.”
UPDATE 1: On NPR: Montgomery McFate and Roberto Gonzales discuss the controversial idea of “academic embeds” at war >> listen to the radio program
SEE EARLIER POSTS:
Is it because the academe rewards critique rather than advocacy? Conflict resolution studies, Mark Davidheiser and Inga E Treitler write in Anthropology News September, are “not widely acknowledged within our discipline” and are “rarely published in mainstream anthropological journals".
Is it because these studies are often written to be intelligible to a broad audience, they wonder:
Addressing an interdisciplinary readership makes it impractical to philosophize on the finer points of specialized topics like agency and employ the latest anthropological jargon. A prominent case in point is the bestselling Getting to Yes, coauthored by anthropologist William Ury. Getting To Yes did not foreground anthropological themes, and while it has been read by many public health practitioners and management professionals, it has received scant attention within anthropology.
One may justifiably wonder why anthropology has not engaged conflict resolution in a more sustained manner. As Leslie Sponsel and Thomas Gregor emphasize in The Anthropology of Peace and Nonviolence, there has been much more scholarship on violence than on peace. The fact that their book has long been out of print only underlines their point.
In his historical overview of anthropology and Conflict Resolution, Kevin Avruch writes that most of anthropologists’s early involvement was dedicated to the problem of getting the field to take the idea of culture seriously. They faced two main hurdles. First, the political scientists and international relations folk took power to be the only “variable” that counted. Second, the psychologists assumed that given the biogenetic unity of the human brain, we must all think and reason in the same way, and so, say, decision-making (as in negotiation) must look the same everywhere.
Günther Schlee stresses that an important finding of anthropological research is related to causes of conflicts:
Ethnicity is not the cause of so-called ethnic conflicts. The corresponding thesis about religion is that religion is not the cause of religious conflicts. We continue to talk about ethnic or religious conflicts, because there is much about such conflicts that is indeed ethnic or religious—just not their causes. Frequently, ethnic or religious polarization only starts to emerge in the course of a conflict, and that is certainly the wrong time to be looking for a cause.
As Mark Davidheiser and Inga E Treitler writes, there are anthropologists who argue that conflict resolution can be seen as an ideology that subverts access to “justice”. One of them is Laura Nader.
In her article in Anthropology News, she writes:
Conflict, adversarialness, dissent, confrontativeness are tools used in asymmetrical situations to right a real or perceived wrong—the collision of force with opposing force. In the absence of such opposing force there is acquiescence, subordination, passivity, apathy—features associated with Brave New World or 1984 societies.
Looking back on our study of consumer justice makes me realize that conflict, confrontativeness, adversarial law would have produced much more benefit for our society than the harmony and reconciliation industry, in terms of improved products, citizen participation (rather than apathy), and an investment in our judicial system appropriate to a country that espouses democratic rule.
The search for justice is both fundamental and universal in human culture and society. Thus, as long as there is power asymmetry one can expect conflict.
>> read the whole text “What’s Good About Conflict?” (link updated)
Leslie E. Sponsel is one of several anthropologists who contribute to the website Peaceful Societies. Alternatives to Violence and War
In the newest issue of Anthropology Today (to be published in October), David Price continues discussing how CIA and similar agencies “covertly set our research agendas and selectively harvest the resulting research” and writes that “sometimes we may need to follow Delmos Jones’ Vietnam War-era example of withholding materials from publication when there is a risk of abuse by military and intelligence agencies:
Given the abuse of power we have already witnessed and the uncertain future we face in relation to the security state that perpetrated this, how far should we permit our professional involvement to go in this matter? We need more awareness of the political nature and uses of our work. As long as we publish in the public arena, anyone can use our findings for ends we may not approve. But we also analyse and advocate on the basis of data we collect, and have a degree of control over our own interpretations. Though secrecy may limit our knowledge of how our research is deployed by the security state, we must continue to expose and publicize known instances of abuse or neglect of our work.
Price’s text “Buying a piece of anthropology. The CIA and our tortured past” is the second part of a two-part article examining how research on stress under Human Ecology Fund sponsorship found its way into the CIA’s Kubark interrogation manual. Abuse of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the CIA’s network of secret ‘rendition’ prisons involves tweaking techniques described in Kubark:
As I have argued here, new information has become available that shows how anthropological knowledge has been applied to devising coercive interrogation techniques in the past. Also, we now know that Tony Lagouranis, who joined Abu Ghraib as an interrogator after the torture scandal broke, has described how Patai’s The Arab mind was abused by military personnel attempting to help interrogators dehumanize Arab enemies (Lagouranis and Mikaelian 2007). We must take this backdrop to the involvement of our discipline into account if we are not to become complicit.
Those who lead calls for social scientists to design improved interrogation methods (see ISB, Gross 2007) claim to do so in order to move away from torture towards a more humane interrogation, but they fail to acknowledge the irony that those they hail as pioneers of scientific interrogation were key CIA MK-Ultra-funded scientists who unethically commissioned and mined research for this purpose (Shane 2007). As a discipline we cannot afford to condone torture; were we to allow our work to be used for such ends we should become ‘specialists without spirit, sensualists without hearts’ (Weber 1904: 182).
Among other things, Kubark discussed the importance of interrogators learning to read the body language of interrogation subjects. The HEF funded the research by anthropologist Edward Hall on this issue, David Price writes. Several pages of Kubark describe how to read subject’s body language with tips such as:
It is also helpful to watch the subject’s mouth, which is as a rule much more revealing than his eyes. Gestures and postures also tell a story. If a subject normally gesticulates broadly at times and is at other times physically relaxed but at some point sits stiffly motionless, his posture is likely to be the physical image of his mental tension. The interrogator should make a mental note of the topic that caused such a reaction. (CIA 1963b: 55)
In 1977, after public revelations of the CIA’s role in directing HEF research projects, Edward Hall discussed his unwitting receipt of CIA funds through the HEF to support his writing of The hidden dimension (Hall 1966):
Hall conceded that his studies of body language would have been useful for the CIA’s goals, ‘because the whole thing is designed to begin to teach people to understand, to read other people’s behavior. What little I know about the [CIA], I wouldn’t want to have much to do with it’ (Greenfield 1977: 11).10 But Hall’s work, like that of others, entered Human Ecology’s knowledge base, which was selectively drawn upon for Kubark.
However, it does not take CIA funding for anthropologists to produce research consumed by military and intelligence agencies, Price stresses:
During the 1993 American military actions in Somalia I read a news article mentioning an ethnographic map issued by the CIA to Army Rangers. Because of my interest in ethnographic mapping, I wrote to the CIA’s cartographic section requesting a copy of this map. A CIA staff member responded to my query, informing me that no such map was available to the public. This CIA employee also politely acknowledged that she was familiar with a book I had published while a graduate student that mapped the geographical location of about 3000 cultural groups (Price 1989).
Given the CIA’s historic role in undermining democratic movements around the world, I was disheartened that they were using my work, but I should not have been surprised. Obviously nothing we publish is safe from being (ab)used by others for purposes we may not intend.
For more texts by David Price on anthropology and CIA, se his homepage
(via Savage Minds) As a response to the growing militarisation of anthropology, a group of anthropologists (incl. David Price, Gustaaf Houtman and Kanhong Lin) has lauched the Network of Concerned Anthropologists: They encourage the development of an ethical anthropology and to oppose anthropologists’ participation in counter-insurgency.
In an email they ask us to sign a petition and spread the word.
The Department of Defense and allied agencies are mobilizing anthropologists for interventions in the Middle East and beyond. It is likely that larger, more permanent initiatives are in the works.
Over the last several weeks, we have created an ad hoc group, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, with the objective of promoting an ethical anthropology. Working together, we have drafted a pledge of non-participation in counter-insurgency, which we have organized as a petition (see attachment). We invite you to become a part of this effort by taking the following steps:
1. Download and print the attached pledge (in .pdf format). Ask your colleagues to sign the pledge, and promptly send it to us via regular mail. Our address is Network of Concerned Anthropologists, c/o Dept. of Anthropology, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MS 3G5, Fairfax, VA 22030 (USA). If it is more convenient, email a .pdf copy of collected signatures and send it to us at concerned.anthropologists (AT) gmail.com.
2. Forward this message to your colleagues, and encourage them to sign.
3. Join our network by emailing us at concerned.anthropologists (AT) gmail.com. Be sure to include your name, title, and affiliation. We will add you to our email list.
4. Visit our web site at http://concerned.anthropologists.googlepages.com/home for more information and updates.
Another article about military anthropologists: The Christian Science Monitor writes about anthropologist “Tracy” who helps the US Army in their war against Afghanistan. Tracy “can give only her first name” to the journalist:
Evidence of how far the US Army’s counterinsurgency strategy has evolved can be found in the work of a uniformed anthropologist toting a gun in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Part of a Human Terrain Team (HHT) – the first ever deployed – she speaks to hundreds of Afghan men and women to learn how they think and what they need.
Finding ways to challenge that fear – and learn what makes Afghans choose to support the government or its enemies – is the job of the HTT. The key ingredient is a “senior cultural analyst,” in this case, Tracy, the anthropologist in uniform.
She has interviewed hundreds of Afghan women and men, sometimes for hours on end, hearing how most are “so tired of war.” In nine months, Tracy has gained deep knowledge, she says, aimed at helping “fill the vacuum that the Taliban and other nefarious actors want to fill.”
Tracy tells Afghans that she wants to “enhance the military’s understanding of the culture so we don’t make mistakes like in Iraq.” But the bar is high, and this village with the medical clinic shows signs of militant influence, such as being “coached.”
Still, Tracy says that she sees real progress, “one Afghan at a time.” And the US military’s views are evolving accordingly, away from firepower to a smarter counterinsurgency.
“It may be one less trigger that has to be pulled here,” Tracy says of the result. “It’s how we gain ground, not tangible ground, but cognitive ground. Small things can have a big impact.
What holds humanity together? What are the hidden or unacknowledged features of mainstream society? These are the issues that 21st century anthropology should address, Thomas Hylland Eriksen writes in his paper The perilous identity politics of anthropology, Keynote lecture at the conference “21st century Anthropology” at the University of Oxford 28–29 June 2007.
“Obsessed with everything that divides humanity for a hundred years, anthropology could now be ready to return to the commonalities, that which holds humanity together", the Norwegian anthropologist suggests.
And rather than studying down, we have to begin to study sideways and up. “The crowded field of minority studies", he writes, “in no way matched by an equal interest in majority studies":
A possible solution might consist in making a real effort to study the basic institutions of society – any society – essentially through ethnographic methods, in the same way as we should – again – begin to address the central intellectual questions of today, in the domains of development, democracy, rights, human nature and the environmental crisis. This is being done already, but in too modest a way to make an impact proper. (…) Anthropological studies of everyday life in a modern society, municipal politics, diplomacies, government corporations, schools, hospitals and even military academies exist, but most of them focus too much on culture and too little on the features of the social organisation, in its formal as well as informal aspects.
Anthropology should confidently locate its focus of enquiry to the centre of society, using ethnographic methods not so much to create wonderment and surprise, but to reveal hidden or unacknowledged features of mainstream society. In this way we would be able to generate knowledge which is not only truthful, but also relevant and – dare I say it – useful. (…) Just as our predecessors took on the central institutions in their small-scale societies, we should now do the same thing in large-scale societies.
Nearly at the same time, Keith Harth published his paper Toward a new human universal. Rethinking anthropology for the twenty-first century, a lecture he is going to hold at the Center for 21st century studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on the September 7th.
Keith Hart argues in a similar way. In his opinion, “the task of building a global civil society for the twenty-first century, even a world state, is an urgent one and anthropological visions should play their part in that":
The solution to anthropology’s problems cannot be found in increased specialization, in the discovery of new areas of social life to colonize with the aid of old professional paradigms or in a return to literary scholarship disguised as a new dialogical form. It requires new patterns of social engagement extending beyond the universities to the widest reaches of world society.
This in turn requires us first, to acknowledge how people everywhere are pushing back the boundaries of the old society and second, to be open to universality, most versions of which have been driven underground by national capitalism and would be buried forever if the present corporate privatization of intellectual life is allowed to succeed.
So, given the precariousness of contemporary anthropology as an academic institution, the issue of its future needs to be couched in broader terms than those defined by the profession itself. (…) Rather I have sought inspiration in Kant’s philosophy and in the critique of unequal society that originates with Rousseau. ‘Anthropology’ would then mean whatever we need to know about humanity as a whole if we want to build a more equal world fit for everyone.
Culture Matters points to “exciting” working papers by the Information Society Research Group about the social and economic benefits of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in low-income communities in Jamaica, India, South Africa and Ghana: “These working papers strongly re-enforce the benefits of an ethnographic approach for the wider world".
One of the most convincing papers is according to Culture Matters written by Daniel Miller and Heather: Horst juxtaposes conventional ICT policy making in Jamaica with ethnographic findings and uncovers that the assumptions concerning internet use held by the government as well as international NGOs diverge hugely from the realities.
Culture Matters juxtapose some of the current policies with Miller’s and Horst’s recommendations:
- Instead of more computers in secondary schools invest in post-educational training for young adults
- Instead of investing into expensive high-end computers invest in low-price computers without gaming facilities
- Instead of creating their own content at high costs, a lot of money can be saved by creating portals which identify useful and high-quality web resources
- Instead of investing in community computers, offer Internet access via individual mobile phones
Also fascinating according to the blog: the reports from Ghana by Don Slater and Janet Kwami:
Again, ethnography unveiled a huge gap between policy assumptions and actual usage. On the one hand there is the widespread belief amongst governments and NGOs that the Internet is a tool of development through information distribution.
Yet all Internet users in the Accra slum studied used the internet only for chat with foreigners (as well as some diasporic family members and friends). “There was exceptionally low awareness of even the existence of websites”. In internet cafes everybody is chatting with unknown foreigners, largely in the North but also in Asia, with a view of accumulating actual and symbolic goods (either on IM (Yahoo or MSN) or in Yahoo chat rooms).
Internet access, although widespread and popular in Accra, is not cheap - one hour costs much more than the average kid’s lunch money – but many teenagers come several times a week, for several hours, solely to chat with foreigners.
Recently, we cound find a portrait of anthropologist Melissa Leach in the Guardian. At the age of 35, Leach became professor of the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University. Now, at 42 and proficient in four African languages, she has been made director of a new global research hub known as the Steps centre (social, technological and environmental pathways to sustainability).
Her research has consistently challenged public policy and the stance taken by government authorities, the Guardian writes:
In the early 1990s, when Leach was a PhD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, she went to Guinea in west Africa with Fairhead, then her research partner.
The area was widely assumed to be experiencing a deforestation crisis, and experts held local villagers responsible. Leach, Fairhead and a Guinean researcher discovered - by talking to the villagers, researching the area’s history and “viewing things through an anthropological lens” - that the opposite was true. The forest was in fact growing, because farmers had worked out how to turn savannah into forest.
Leach and her colleagues had shown how experts can reach wildly wrong conclusions if local knowledge and history are not taken into account. Their findings became a book, Misreading the African Landscape, and a film, Second Nature: Building Forests in West Africa’s Savannahs. A decade later, they are still being used to illustrate the power of anthropological methods.
Her new centre opened in June and hopes to develop a new approach to understanding why the gap between the poorest and the richest is growing, and to doing something about it. It promises to question the “assumption that the world is stable, predictable and knowable through a single form of knowledge that assumes one size fits all". “We are about producing scholarly research, and playing a public and intellectual role.”
At the Steps centre, there are 18 academics representing disciplines ranging from anthropology to ecology to medicine. Academic and policy debates, she says to the Guardian, are compartmentalised into areas as agriculture or health. Rarely do the different disciplines manage to speak to one another. “We urgently need new, interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and addressing situations that combine an understanding of social, technological and environmental processes.”
There are already several papers to download at the website of the Steps centre.
And the centre has of course its own blog “The crossing”
Leach has been interviewed by the Guardian before, see Ground rules for research. Technology won’t help developing countries if it is not tailored to local needs and Steps towards better development.
I also found an older paper: